3 Considerations to Harness the Power of Design

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The Power of Design

According to Wikipedia:

  • Power is defined as the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance.
  • Design is a road map, complete with specifications, plans, costs and activities, or a strategic approach for someone to achieve a unique expectation.

Simply put, good design creates actions in individuals that meet necessary expectations. In the world of nonprofit organizations, this means donations. Let me preface this blog post by saying that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nonprofits. Some of the largest organizations don’t have the greatest design. They got to be large because of their cause and the dedication of the people that work tirelessly and many times thanklessly behind the scenes. In these cases, they succeed in spite of their designs (honestly, the same could be said for many for-profits).

On the other hand, there are a multitude of nonprofits that exist on a local, even regional, level that are fighting and clawing for every dollar they bring in to support their worthy causes. It is these organizations that I am speaking to. It is these nonprofits that can benefit greatly from the Power of Design!

Designing for a nonprofit is a lot like designing for a business. The goal is to create a recognizable brand that can be immediately associated with a product or service. It should work on numerous mediums, in black and white, as well as full-colored. Sounds easy right?

As a volunteer Creative Director of a local nonprofit, I thought the same thing. Boy was I wrong. In fact, designing for nonprofit became much harder. Why? I quickly learned, as a nonprofit I had nothing to give back. People were instructed to donate their hard earned money with nothing in return besides a clear conscience and some good will. Sure, we gave a t-shirt or some wrist bands here and there but for the most part people just donated.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that a nonprofit’s brand had to accomplish a lot more than a business’. I thought about how I spend my money and what charitable organizations I give to. It was pretty clear I was willing to buy products and services regardless of what the brand looked like, especially if it was something I really wanted or needed (i.e. see Kraft Food’s new logo or all of Pepsi’s failed branding attempts).

Bad Logos

On the other hand, I am not about to give money to a charitable organization that has a poor design. Why? Because if they don’t care enough about what they look like and how they are represented, how do I know that my money won’t be used or distributed in the same careless manner.

With this new found insight in mind, I came up with 3 important things to consider if you are a nonprofit:

  1. Simplify: Sound design principles state that the simpler the design the more effective it becomes. As a nonprofit, you might be tempted to include all sorts of imagery that represents the “cause” that you are entrenched with. One of the cardinal sins of design is over-designing. This happens when you try to convey multiple messages in a limited amount of space. As I mentioned before, a design needs to work across multiple mediums. A logo with an icon, URL, tag line, phone number, etc. tends to look bad when used in small spaces, websites, and signage that is viewed at a distance. So keep it simple. Use other ways to build your story, like video, social media, and your website.
  2. Diversify: Social media, social media, social media. Hopefully you have already addressed #1, so now put it to good use. If your organization is not currently on social media, it should be. Not only is it a great way to engage donors and fans, it is the best way to start showing off your new look. With the new Facebook cover image and the opportunity to customize your Twitter background, social platforms are perfect for playing with design and they are flexible enough to experiment with design based on your current campaign or marketing message.
  3. Multiply: Brand everything! The nonprofit that I am involved with has a lot going on; events, team building exercises, online and offline marketing campaigns and apparel. When designing for each of these activities, I make sure that our foundational brand is easily represented. We have a logo that works well in grayscale, as well as many different one-color formats, so the first thing I think about is color scheme. The second thing I think about is how the piece is viewed by people who have no clue what we do. In this case I want one of two responses. I want the design to easily convey what we do, or I want to design something that causes the person to ask about it. However you approach your marketing, think less about what you like or what you find “attractive” and more about how strangers engage with your design.
  4. Bonus – Never Stop Testing: No matter where you are with the branding of your nonprofit, never stop updating, testing, and experimenting. Not only will this keep your design current, it shows your donors that you aren’t just sitting in your living room or office waiting for those donations to come in.

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